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A More Perfect Union April 23, 2010

Posted by monty in comedy, TV.
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Despite my general disdain for James Cameron’s Titanic, I’ve always been a huge fan of Kate Winslet.  In fact, she could star in a half dozen sequels to Titanic, and I’d still come down firmly on her side just for her portrayal of Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s to her immense credit that, post-Titanic, she didn’t snatch up every big paycheck that came down the line at the expense of her artistic integrity.  Instead, she’s stuck mainly to her indie roots, with only the Nancy Meyers-directed comedy The Holiday her only true foray into Hollywood convention (and even that one’s a little perverse by trying to pass off Jack Black as a romantic leading man).  Her other projects have all been stubbornly independent: Quills, Little Children, Holy Smoke – even movies like Finding Neverland and Revolutionary Road, despite their prestige and big-name casts, haven’t been terribly mainstream.

And then there’s her appearance on Ricky Gervais’ brilliant Office follow-up, Extras. For those who don’t know the plot, Extras focuses on a pair of the titular background actors, Andy Millman (played by Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen).  The show isn’t quite as uncomfortable as The Office, but it still explores some of the same territory, as the harmlessly self-centered Andy and the hapless Maggie try to get a line or two while on the set of their latest movie, usually to humiliating effect.  The beauty of the show, however, is due to its celebrity cameos.  David Bowie, Ben Stiller, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Daniel Radcliffe, and others show up in various episodes and poke vicious fun at their public personas.

And that’s where Kate Winslet comes in.  In the series’ very first episode, Andy and Maggie are extras on the set of a Holocaust-themed movie.  Andy plays a German soldier, Maggie plays a Jewish refugee, and Winslet plays herself playing a nun who hides the Jews in a church.  In one of the episode’s subplots, Maggie reveals she has a new boyfriend who likes to talk dirty on the phone, but Maggie doesn’t know how to respond.  In a feat of comic derring-do, Winslet shows up to give her lessons.

(The following video of the first ten minutes of the episode is very funny, but if you only want to watch the shorter clip in question, watch from 5:00 to 7:20.)

Then, toward the end of the episode, Winslet checks in with Andy and Maggie to see how the phone call went.

Winslet’s performance is great for a variety of reasons, but for me the pleasure comes from seeing an actress often known for playing straight-laced characters in period movies (Sense and Sensibility, Quills, Finding Neverland, Jude) give lessons on masturbatory dirty talk.  And of course there’s an extra layer of subversion as she does it in a nun’s habit.  Winslet has shown hints of comic flair before, but her work here is so terrific (some of which admittedly has to be credited to Gervais, who has a knack for making everyone shine) that I wish she’d take the plunge and do a full-fledged comedy.  Stick her in Judd Apatow’s next movie, or let her star in something with, say, Zach Galifianakis or Paul Rudd or Steve Carell.  I’d be first in line.


Current listening:

Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away (2010)

Last movie seen:

The Crow (1994; Alex Proyas, dir.)


Early Christmas Present April 21, 2010

Posted by monty in news, politics.
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My friend Adam reminded me of something else I was going to mention in yesterday’s post about the Tea Party movement.  In that post, I discussed three recent articles that essentially prove that the Tea Party – for all its blathering about being a vital third party that stands in opposition to all government – is really just a bunch of typical Republicans who will protest anything Obama does for no reason other than they’re sore losers.  The details are here.

But one of the things rattling around in the back of my head yesterday that Adam reminded me of this morning is Monday’s armed protest in Virginia. A group of “patriots” held an anti-government rally on the shores of the Potomac River, ostensibly in opposition to health care reform, climate control, bank bailouts, and Obama’s insistence on “totalitarian socialism.”  So, in other words, it’s the same tired old bullshit.  The difference this time?  Well, here, from the article:

[Daniel] Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder.

This anti-Obama rally (because, really, let’s stop pretending it’s anything different) holds the dubious distinction of being the first whose attendees carried loaded weapons in a national park.  It’s tempting to digress and discuss the truly frightening aspect of this rally, which is that so many on the right (including some in attendance at the rally) have threatened violence against the president and the Democrats in Congress.  The appearance of guns is just one more step on the path marked “armed insurrection.”

But what I briefly want to do is tie the rally to yesterday’s post by simply reminding you of a couple things.

1) At no time has Obama uttered even the slightest hint of a breath about repealing or limiting the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.  So this protest can’t be about the simple exercising of a Constitutional right.  What, then, is the purpose of bringing guns to a rally in opposition to Obama?  It’s a threat, clear and simple.  A promise of violence.  Guns exist for one reason: to kill.  And I don’t care how you want to gussy it up, bringing guns to a rally that’s supposedly about health care reform is nothing more than a reminder to Democrats that those in opposition to you have the power to take you out.

2) The beautifully ludicrous aspect of this rally is that Obama defended the rule (originally proposed by Bush) allowing loaded weapons in national parks, and the law was passed during Obama’s presidency by a Democratic Congress.  So the protesters – because they’re such clearly intelligent, informed people – are protesting the policies of the President who allowed them to carry their guns in a national park in the first place.  Once again we see that those who stand in opposition to Obama will stand in opposition to him even when he does things that are in their interest.  It’s the good ol’ Republican way of doing business: obstruct, obstruct, obstruct, even when it makes absolutely no sense.


Current listening:

Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You (2010)

Song of the Day (4/20/10) April 20, 2010

Posted by monty in music.
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April 20 has to be the lamest day of celebration on the calendar. If anyone is celebrating anything today it’s either A) smoking pot (a celebration of which is totally redundant because anyone celebrating it will just be doing the exact same thing they do the other 364 days of the year), and B) Hitler’s birthday (and “Happy birthday, dear Adolf,” just isn’t very catchy.)

So, rather than recognize the date by posting either a shitty reggae song or something by neo-Nazi mooks Skrewdriver, I’m steadfastly ignoring the date altogether and giving you something by Kitchens of Distinction.  One of the best bands of the ’80s and ’90s with one of the worst names of all time, KOD dealt in shimmery, hazy guitars and lovelorn, sad-sack lyrics.  Their brilliance is due, in large part, to Julian Swales, one of rock’s unsung guitar heroes.  My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields gets all the credit for pioneering the warped, my-guitar-is-underwater sound of shoegaze, but Swales is, for my money, every bit Shields’ equal.  The band released four albums before breaking up, but every single one of them is worth your time.

This song is “Quick as Rainbows,” and it comes from their amazing 1991 album, Strange Free World (and be sure to check out Swales’ spellbinding wall of sound during the song’s last 45 seconds).

Failed Suicide Club April 20, 2010

Posted by monty in news, politics.
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Sometime in the last couple weeks I made a conscious decision to stop getting so aggravated by the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement. For much of 2009 and the first few months of this year I feared for my sanity whenever I turned on the news.  I’ve never been one to talk to myself – or to inanimate objects – but recently all it would take would be an appearance by Sarah Palin or Eric Cantor or Michele Bachmann (or the unholy triumvirate of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Ann Coulter) to get me frothing and barking at the TV screen like … well, like a member of the Tea Party.

But at some point I realized it was a waste of energy and emotion to get so worked up over a party whose only purpose is to obstruct the Democrats’ agenda, and whose anger exists without any recourse to reality.  I could work up a self-righteous head of steam in an honest debate with someone who is genuinely informed on the issues and who holds an opinion that’s grounded in facts.  But all you have to do is listen to Mitch McConnell or Mike Pence or any of the wingnuts in attendance at a tea party rally to realize that you’re not dealing with sane people who genuinely want to constructively solve America’s problems.  It’s all about getting angry and fucking shit up – physically or legislatively, it doesn’t matter.

So even though my reaction now is to laugh whenever I hear or see virtually anyone representing the GOP or the Tea Party, there have been a few things coming across the wires in the last several days worth mentioning.  So bear with me as I try to pull them together.  I might be able to connect the dots, but I make no promises.

1) There’s a solid piece at Daily Kos comparing the current Tea Party to this country’s last viable third party movement: those who supported Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election.  The gist of the article is that the two movements are nothing alike.  The third partiers in ’92 sprang up in support of Perot, instead of in support of a nebulous cause like “Give me back my country!,” which is really just anti-Democrat sentiment disguised as patriotism.  Perot’s supporters were truly bipartisan in nature, rejecting Republicans and Democrats alike.  For instance, over a third of those who voted for Perot voted for either Walter Mondale in 1984 or Michael Dukakis in 1988 (or both).  Today?  Only 5% of those in the Tea Party self-identify as Democrats.  Similarly, roughly 57% in the Tea Party view George W. Bush favorably (with only 27% viewing him unfavorably), but in ’92, Perot’s supporters viewed both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton unfavorably.

The point?  It’s time to put an end to this myth that the Tea Party is a multi-hued, technicolor, rainbow coalition of concerned Americans who are peeved at government in general.  It’s not.  It’s a bunch of Republicans who are pissed that Obama’s in the White House, and are trying to brand their version of far-right craziness as ultra-patriotism.  Period.  Most of these people don’t give two shits about the Constitution, not in any real way.  They live in a fantasy world where the Constitution grants rich white dudes the inalienable right to do whatever they want, and the rest of us just have to deal with it.  That’s patriotism, Tea Party-style.

2) On a related note, the GOP is now clearly aware of some of the more virulent, violent protest signs at the Tea Party rallies, and are busy trying to point out that some left-wing protestors used similar rhetoric against Bush. Okay, first off, they’re absolutely right.  There were definitely some nutcases comparing Bush to Hitler and Satan, and calling for either his death or his incarceration.  You’ll get no dispute from me there.

The Democrats, as should be expected by now, are handling this all wrong. In the article linked above, the Dems’ response is to question the veracity of the signs.  This is profoundly stupid, and is akin to the Republicans’ current strategy, which is to claim any signs espousing violent or racist rhetoric against Obama is being done by liberal infiltrators who just want to make the Tea Party look bad.  In other words, rather than denounce the violent racists in their midst, the GOP would just rather blame the Democrats.  Again.

What the Democrats should be saying instead is this: “Look, we get that there were some idiots who said Bush was like Hitler.  And we know that Code Pink consists of a bunch of transsexual drama queens whose protests are annoying even to the people who agree with the issues in principle.  But the fundamental difference between those groups and the Tea Party is that these liberals protestors were the fringe of our party.  They’re the half-dozen lunatics and twerps that give all of us a bad name.  But the Tea Party is your base. These are, almost to a person, stalwart conservatives, who worship at the altar of Bush and Reagan, who festoon their bodies with American flag regalia, and who believe there’s nothing sexier than a firearm clasped by a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan in an Uncle Sam hat.  18% of Americans identify with the Tea Party.  Toward the end of his presidency, only 25% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Bush.  The margin of difference there is razor-thin.  The Tea Party is the Republican Party is the Tea Party.  They’re indistinguishable from one another.  Which means – guess what? – the Republican party is littered with violent racists who are primarily angry that there’s a black man in the White House.  We have our crazies, too, but our crazies are the disorganized fringe.  Your crazies make up the foundation of your party.  Job well done, Republicans.”

3) Much was made of the recent poll demonstrating that Tea Party members are wealthy older white males.  No shit.  Really?  Perhaps more surprising was the finding that, grammatically incoherent and rhetorically obtuse protest signs notwithstanding, they’re also educated.  One thing I’d like to point out, though, is that there’s a difference between being educated and being intelligent or informed.  I have a high level of education, but I’m not too swift when it comes to certain things outside my purview.  You don’t, for instance, often hear me spouting off about quantum physics.  If I don’t know much about something, I tend to keep my mouth shut.  I’m a good listener.  But the Tea Party, despite whatever level of education its individual members possess, don’t seem to know much about the government or taxes or Obama’s citizenship or, you know, any of the issues they’re supposedly protesting.  To wit:

  • Only 41% believe Obama was born in the United States (Hawaii: not a state, apparently).
  • 64% of them believe their taxes have been raised (despite the fact that the economic stimulus package contained the largest middle class tax cut in history).
  • Two-thirds are climate change deniers (because it snowed in the New England in February!).
  • 40% believe there should be no recognition of gay couples at all (depressing, but expected).
  • 92% believe Obama is moving the country toward Socialism (obvious, what with the Dow being way up and the tax cuts and people finally finding jobs and all).
  • A staggering 73% believe that government aid encourages people to stay poor (because being poor is fun!)
  • And, of course, 59% love Glenn Beck; %66 love Sarah Palin (also: 100% of these believe the sun revolves around the Earth).

The Tea Party may be educated, but does this really sound like the views of an intelligent movement?  What it sounds like to me is the standard GOP party line, and the perfectly understandable opinions of a bunch of people who use Fox News as their primary source of information.

At the top I said I’d try to connect the dots between these three articles, and the obvious picture that develops when they’re combined is this: the Tea Party is indistinguishable from the present-day GOP.  There’s been talk for months about the Tea Party becoming a third party, or wondering to what degree the Republicans should extend an olive branch to the Tea Party, melding the two in the sort of genetic experiment that should be illegal.  This kind of speculation is pointless.  To try and separate the GOP from the Tea Party, or to pretend the Tea Party would be a viable third party, is ludicrous.  The members of the Tea Party are Republicans.  They believe in the things Republicans believe in, support all the usual Republican politicians and pundits, hate all the usual Democratic causes and beliefs, and, when push comes to shove, will vote Republican straight down the ballot, no matter how much they swear up and down they won’t.

But it’ll be interesting to see how this conflict continues to play out.  The GOP surely realizes that the Tea Party isn’t exactly a model of civility and decorum, and will continue to be wary of embracing them whole-heartedly.  And the Tea Partiers, who’ve sworn until they’re blue in their jowly, porcine faces that they hate all government, will be slow to align themselves with the GOP, lest they reveal themselves as the hypocrites the rest of us know that they are.  So yeah, I used to get mad at all of this, but now I’m sort of grateful for this wonderfully hysterical gift that just keeps on giving.


Current listening:

The National – High Violet (2010)

Last movie seen:

Kick-Ass (2010; Matthew Vaughn, dir.)

Stiller Saturday April 17, 2010

Posted by monty in comedy, TV.
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The Ben Stiller Show is one of the great lost TV shows of the 90’s.  Not only did it feature, over the course of thirteen stellar episodes, razor-sharp parodies of popular culture, it launched the careers of a handful of our best comedians.  Besides Stiller himself, Judd Apatow was a producer and writer, the three cast members consisted of Bob Odenkirk, Andy Dick, and Janeane Garofalo, and David Cross joined the writing staff late in the series’ run, and appeared as a cast member in a few episodes.  Along with The State and The Kids in the Hall (and eventually Cross and Odenkirk’s own Mr. Show), The Ben Stiller Show was certainly one of the very best sketch shows of the last 25 years, and in its best moments, it’s top-notch television, bar none.

The two sketches below were written by Cross.  The first is probably my favorite sketch in the series’ run, called “The Legend of T.J. O’Pootertoot,” and the second is a sly parody of Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men (featuring Andy Dick’s killer impersonation of Keifer Sutherland).

And, what the hell, here’s one more.  It’s called “Legends of Springsteen.”  Enjoy.

I Don’t Know if This Is Ignorance or Transcendence April 16, 2010

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Bob Cesca is one of my favorite writers, and for my money he’s doing the best job of anyone at unveiling the drooling, gibbering, psycho ward lunacy and racist dumbfuckery of the contemporary Republican party.

Cesca’s currently busy tilting, Don Quixote-style, at the Glenn Beck windmill, hell-bent on revealing him for the huckster and charlatan that he is.  I’ve long believed that Beck is engaged in a bit of quasi-Andy Kaufman performance art, and the only thing that keeps me from being completely in awe of him is the fact that so many of the people who watch him take him absolutely fucking seriously.  And that is, in a word, frightening.  Given a second word, it’s also irresponsible.  It’s one thing to spew lies with a nod and a wink, when your listeners know you’re not serious and are in on the joke. But it’s another thing entirely to do what Beck does, which is purposely deceive his fans, who choose to remain willfully ignorant, and who tune in to Beck because he gleefully pours gasoline on even their most unintelligible conspiracy theories.  Because, you know, fomenting anti-government violence and bigotry is fun.

Anyway, Cesca’s been writing some exceptional stuff about Beck recently.  Here’s a link to his most recent piece for the Huffington Post, which is, as usual, spot-on.

Bob Cesca (Huffington, Post, 4/14/10): Exposing Glenn Beck as a Dangerous Fraud, Part 2

And, for those who haven’t clicked the link on the right, here’s Cesca’s blog, which is full of goodies.


Current listening:

Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here (2010)

Gonna Get Along Without You Now April 15, 2010

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I’m sort of surprised at how irritated I am not to be attending this year’s Coachella Festival.  It’s been a yearly tradition of mine for the last decade, and I vividly remembering walking on the grass last year on the first day of the fest, just after the gates opened, passing a pretzel/churro/frozen lemonade stand near the Coachella Stage, and saying, “Ah, it doesn’t matter how far away I am next year.  I’ll be here for sure.”

Then budget cuts in Georgia caused furlough days at my university, cutting into my income by a couple hundred dollars a month.  Then my not insubstantial student loans kicked in in January.  Then I was worried that the state’s budget crisis was going to cost me my job altogether.  Then, even when my job appeared secure, there was (and still is) the chance that I’ll lose one or both of my summer classes due to low enrollment.  And by the time I might have been able to eke out enough spare change for the trip, the festival was so close that flights were well over $500.  Oh, and my students have a major project due on Monday, which I really can’t afford to miss.

A perfect storm of bullshit circumstances interrupted my yearly three-day respite from work and stress, but even so, I wasn’t expecting to take it so hard.  Yeah, I was disappointed in January when I saw the lineup and first had the sinking feeling that the trip wouldn’t be possible.  But I’ve been in a pissy mood all week, and it can be traced directly to my non-attendance this year.

But, because if there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s my relentless, creepy positivity, I’m not going to let it get me down.  In the spirit of celebrating what the festival’s all about, here’s a small sample of the photos I took last year.  Enjoy.

Los Campesinos!

White Lies

Fire snake

Tesla coils

Cloud Cult

Bob Mould

Henry Rollins

Band of Horses

No Age

The Gaslight Anthem

Lykke Li

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

So, I’m not there this year.  But I’ve already starting saving my pennies for next year.  And, if all else fails, I could easily be talked into harvesting an organ.


Current listening:

Sennen – Age of Denial (2010)

The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future April 14, 2010

Posted by monty in education.
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When I moved from Santa Barbara, California, to the metro Atlanta area nearly a year ago, I freely admit to having many preconceived notions about what I’d encounter there.  Admittedly, these were mainly fueled by my childhood memories of The Dukes of Hazzard, and I fully expected to find myself surrounded by hayseeds and bumpkins whose family tree, to borrow a line from Bill Hicks, was a stump.

And I was really in the dark when I imagined what my students would be like.  I had become accustomed to working with preservice teachers who were intelligent and motivated, and who were receptive to any ideas that they thought would make them better teachers.  Most importantly of all, their students were their primary concern, and they wanted to make sure – even as student teachers – that they were doing right by them.  I didn’t know what to expect from my students in Georgia.  The popular perception – not entirely unearned – is that Southern education is a sham, and I could easily picture a classroom full of mouthbreathing troglodytes who were only getting into the teaching profession for the summers off so they could help their pappy run the family moonshine business.

What I found – because I’m always wrong – is that my students were much like those I had in California.  Undergrads this time, true, but no less concerned with their future students’ well-being, and just as sponge-like in their hunger to soak up any ideas that sounded promising.  It’s been a humbling experience to see my own prejudices so thoroughly shattered, and for a while I’ve been operating under the belief that the only substantial difference between preservice teachers in California and those in Georgia is their geographical location.

Until today, that is.

On the schedule for today was the understandably delicate issue of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) students in class.  When you’re dealing with preservice teachers, it’s important for them to see that this isn’t an issue to avoid, and with preservice English teachers especially, it’s increasingly crucial that they be aware of the Young Adult literature available to help students who are out of the closet or questioning their sexual orientation come to grips with who they are.  The statistics dealing with LGBT teens who commit suicide (or make an attempt) are staggering, and teachers should be equipped with the knowledge that these struggles are happening in their classrooms, and they need to be confident in strategies to ensure that those classrooms are a safe space for all students to learn.

In California – at least the part of it where I spent the last several years – the idea that LGBT students shouldn’t be accepted or treated respectfully in classrooms would be laughed at.  It’s something I didn’t spend a lot of time formally talking about in class, simply because in the course of our discussions we explored the need for safe spaces and for ensuring that different perspectives and voices are honored, and above all, that no student in the classroom should feel harassed or intimidated.  To spend time belaboring the point with these students would be like reminding someone of the importance of breathing.  Their attitude of acceptance was a foregone conclusion.

(As a side note, notice that there’s a difference between acceptance of homosexuality and promotion of it.  I’m not asking teachers to change their religious beliefs or prejudices.  It’s not appropriate for me to foist my own beliefs on others, and while it would be nice to live in a world where religious mania and close-minded bigotry didn’t rule the day, I understand that that’s a battle too big for me to fight alone.  All I’m asking is for teachers to treat all their students like human beings, which shouldn’t be a radical proposition.)

Today, however, I encountered the first substantive difference between the two states.  My students read a series of articles about acceptance of LGBT teens in the English classroom, and how literature can be used to give those students a voice.  One of the articles (quite reasonably, I thought) advocated teachers putting a rainbow sticker or maybe a small flag somewhere in their classroom to acknowledge it as a safe, harassment-free space.  The derision this idea received is akin to those people who, when reminded of Black History Month, belligerently ask, “Why isn’t there a White History Month?  Well?”  Several of the students amazingly saw this as being discriminatory toward straight people – that by putting up a rainbow sticker, you’d also need to put up a “straight” sticker, and a sticker supporting interracial relationships, and, even though I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, a bestiality sticker.  Making a public display, however modest, of GLBT acceptance was “going too far,” in one student’s words.  By the end of their table discussion, this small group was practically rolling on the floor in delight at all the clever new “politically correct” stickers they were coming up with, all so that, heaven forbid, GLBQT teens could feel accepted and safe.

The thing that drives me absolutely insane about this line of (non)logic is the majority culture’s failure to realize how many things they take for granted. There isn’t a White History Month because every fucking month of the year is White History Month.  Putting up a rainbow sticker doesn’t discriminate against straight people because straight people dominate every facet of our society and determine the rules that non-straight people have to live with.  It’s a short-sighted view of the world that’s completely ignorant of just how good the majority culture has it.  And as a member of that majority culture in just about every way (except for the atheism and the baldness), it’s something I try not to forget.

More difficult to handle was the student who actually suggested that, because public schools are funded by taxpayer money, we should segregate schools to protect the general public’s desires.  That idea is so beyond the pale – that corralling all the gays into their own school would be a good idea, because goodness knows we haven’t learned anything about racial or religious discrimination in this country – that I was completely at a loss for words.  I couldn’t begin to come up with an even-handed, rational response, so I just let it go.  Would it have made me feel better to tell her she was crazy?  Absolutely.  Would it have done any good?  Probably not.

(I should also mention, just for accuracy’s sake, that this wasn’t symptomatic of the entire class.  There are, for instance, three students whose more enlightened views on this issue I already know, and while I wish they had spoken up so I didn’t have to, I understood their silence.)

The most difficult thing about today’s class was being reminded yet again how bigotry often exists where you least expect it.  The conversation today doesn’t begin to change my mind about these students – I still maintain that they’re smart, dedicated, and well-intentioned.  But they’re also clearly products of their environment: conservative and religious, and living in a state whose discriminatory practices are well-documented.  And it’s clear that when it comes to equal rights and fairness for all, we still have a long way to go.


Current listening:

Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring (2010)

Even Heroes Have to Die April 13, 2010

Posted by monty in movies.
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I love Sigourney Weaver. Always have, regardless of what she’s in. But if it’s possible for an actor to jump the shark, she just did it.

If Weaver is to be believed, Avatar director James Cameron lost the Best Director Oscar “because Jim didn’t have breasts.”  And The Hurt Locker picked up Best Picture “because it’s fashionable to give the Oscar to a small movie that nobody saw.”

I understand sour grapes, Sigourney, and I get that you’re proud of your work on Avatar and that you want to defend your director.  Your loyalty is commendable.  Hell, I could even make a case defending Cameron as Best Director based solely on the tenacity it took to get Avatar to the screen.

But the simple truth about Avatar is this: remove the (admittedly beautiful) special effects from the equation, and you’re left with a movie that’s staggeringly mediocre.  Horribly scripted, terribly acted by much of the cast, overlong, and, as many other people have pointed out, a veritable Frankenstein’s monster of other, better movies, Avatar is an entertaining trifle that absolutely no one would remember if it weren’t so technologically advanced.

As for the slam against Best Director winner Kathryn Bigelow, it’s depressing to see Weaver – a woman who’s made a career of playing strong female characters – employ a sort of reverse sexism charge in supporting Cameron. To me, Bigelow’s win had nothing to do with being a woman and everything to do with creating a tightly-wound, multi-layered look at the Iraq War that somehow managed to avoid being overtly political.  That entire movie is a high-wire act, and to have done it on such a small budget with no name actors in leading roles is pretty remarkable.

So, c’mon Sigourney.  Continue to defend your crappy movie.  As a cast member, that’s to be expected.  But if you’re going to fabricate reasons why Cameron lost the Oscar, try coming up with something that doesn’t also insult the person who, quite deservedly, won the award.  Say Cameron lost because he’s a megalomaniacal asshole.  Or because he already won for Titanic.  But to claim it’s because he doesn’t have breasts is kind of catty, and seems beneath you.  Make like your character Ellen Ripley and challenge Bigelow to a fight if you must.  But press junket passive-agressiveness?  That’s just not something Ripley would do.

The Huffington Post (4/13/10): Sigourney Weaver: James Cameron Lost Oscar Because He Didn’t Have Breasts


Current listening:

R.E.M. – New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)

Song of the Day (4/12/10) April 12, 2010

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Cloud Cult is easily one of the best kept secrets in music.  They sort of remain willfully small-scale, recording their music on singer Craig Minowa’s organic farm in rural Minnesota, and releasing the subsequent albums on Minowa’s Earthology records, using only recycled materials in the process.   Oh, and all profits are donated to environmental charities.  Their music, however, is widescreen bliss – soaring, anthemic melodies shot through with a bittersweet undercurrent (due in no small part on their early songs to the 2002 death of Minowa’s two-year-old son).   They’re great on record, but live they’re even better, performing their panoramic epics accompanied by two visual artists (one of whom is Minowa’s wife) who complete paintings during the band’s set, which are then auctioned off following the show. Simply put, Cloud Cult is everything that’s currently right with music.

The first video is a promotional clip for their song “Chemicals Collide.”  The second is their song “No Said it Would Be Easy,” performed at 2009’s Coachella Festival (probably my favorite set of the weekend).   Enjoy.

And This Is What We Call Progress April 11, 2010

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I’ll be the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy being an Obama supporter.  While I’m ultimately glad that some kind of health care reform passed, I’m one of the few that disapproves of its current incarnation not because I’m frightened of death panels and government takeovers and squads of roving IRS agents and whatever other bogeymen the comically conspiracy-minded GOP can fabricate, but because the bill didn’t go far enough. Also, as I’ve written elsewhere on 3SODA, Obama’s current education policy is catastrophically simplistic and wrong-headed.

And that’s before you factor in the relentless GOP crybaby machine. Amazingly, all the right-wing vituperation during the 2008 presidential campaign has only gotten worse in the last year.  Newt Gingrich ( Obama’s is the “most radical” administration ever), Rush Limbaugh (Obama is “inflicting untold damage” on the U.S.), and good ol’ Sarah Palin (Obama’s recent agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nukes in each country is like a kid who says “punch me in the face”) have been launching their attacks on a nearly daily basis, and this doesn’t even begin to take into account the not-at-all-racist (nudge nudge, wink wink) Tea Party Movement, as well as the rank and file Republicans who swear that Obama has raised taxes and ruined the economy.

Long story short, it’s sometimes difficult to defend him when there are certainly aspects of his presidency with which I’m dissatisfied myself.

But it shouldn’t be difficult.  In the first year of Obama’s presidency:

  • The Dow is up from 7,000 to 11,000
  • The job situation has gone from 700,000 losses a month to 160,000 jobs created
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has added 1.8 million jobs
  • The GDP (a measure of economic growth) has moved from -6% to +6%
  • Housing prices are up 20%

A pox on that radical Socialist for doing such horrific things to our country!

More unbelievable still is the fact that Republicans are actually angry about the fact that roughly 47% of American households in 2009 paid no taxes – not due to some sneaky dodge, but because they either didn’t make enough money, or because they benefited from tax credits that were part of the stimulus package.

You see the contradiction, right?

The GOP, so recently busy trying to position itself as the grass-roots party of the common man (remember Joe the Plumber?), is furious because A) people who are too poor to afford taxes aren’t being made to turn over their last $2 to the government, and B) the government is actually helping the middle class save money.  So the official GOP position on taxes is this: we hate taxes … except for when a Democrat’s in office, and then you’d better pay up or else you’re a no-good welfare case.

(And, come to think of it, isn’t that an interesting position for the GOP to take?  If they’re so concerned with appealing to the working class, why take this position on taxes, and why frame universal health care as an entitlement program?  What we’ve learned from the Republicans in the first year of Obama’s presidency is that people who need financial help are parasitic lowlifes mooching off the system.  You’re either self-sufficient, or you’re a liability.  There’s no middle ground.  And more puzzling still, why do the low- and middle-classes persist in allowing themselves to be tricked into believing that the Republicans actually care about them?)

Something else the last year (and especially the last few months) should have taught us is that, contrary to what the Republican powers that be would have us believe, there is no liberal media.  It’s inconvenient for the GOP, I know, but there’s simply no cabal of broadcasters whose sole interest is getting us to eat granola, wear clothes made from hemp, and read The Communist Manifesto. In many ways, it’s been entertaining to watch the Republicans cry about the “liberal media” because one of their most reliable talking points is that the Democrats are always pretending to be the victim.  Yet when it comes to the media, the Republicans make like a two-year-old who just got his binky swiped.  We’re supposed to believe that the “mainstream media” (translation: anything that’s not Fox News) has its jackbooted foot on the neck of the Republican Party, effectively silencing anything critical of the Obama administration.  But the important thing to remember is that the contemporary Republican party depends on its followers feeling like they’re being persecuted.  Just look at the way they approach some of their favorite issues:

  • The mainstream media wants to silence conservative voices.
  • Healthcare reform will make it harder for you to see your doctor and send IRS agents to your door.
  • The Tea Party Movement consistently uses “Take our country back!” as a rallying cry.
  • Obama wants to steal your money and “redistribute” it to people who don’t deserve it.

To the GOP, any ideas that are even remotely progressive exist only to persecute you and take what’s rightfully yours.  And that’s the stance they’ve taken with the media: it’s state-run, and serves a Democratic agenda.  But no one but the most blinkered, tunnel-visioned Republican really believes that, do they?  I mean, why, in this liberal media Utopia, am I subjected to the thoughts of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the Tea Party?  Why aren’t the statistics I cited above common knowledge?  Why haven’t the myriad Republican hypocrisies detailed in this letter been playing in an uninterrupted loop on NBC, CBS, and ABC?  Why haven’t Newt Gingrich’s infidelities gotten as much play as John Edwards’?  Because the media is so liberal.  Right.  I keep forgetting.

One of the problems, of course, is that we’ve turned into a society that believes that just because there happens to be two sides to an issue, both sides are equally worth hearing.  This is why we’re so lucky to find out what Sarah Palin thinks about Obama’s qualifications to sign a non-proliferation agreement with Russia.

Make no mistake: when one of the sides debating an issue consists of Palin, Gingrich, and Limbaugh (not to mention court jester extraordinaire Glenn Beck and perpetual victim Andrew Breitbart), that viewpoint isn’t worth hearing, because that viewpoint doesn’t exist in the same reality as the rest of us.  It’s like someone arguing against gravity.  Sure, it’s polite to give the opposing perspective a chance to talk, but why bother? There’s a world of difference between making a principled objection against something, and just being a dick.  Too often, it seems like the GOP just wants to do the latter (see especially, Gingrich’s recent claim that, in a Republican-controlled Congress, the first order of business will be to defund and repeal all of Obama’s policies – again, despite all the evidence that they’ve worked.)

It’s all very confusing.  We have a president who has done some remarkably positive things for the country, and yet the opposition is unequivocally controlling the dialogue – to the point where some of his supporters are even reluctant to defend him.  Somehow, despite Obama’s successes, the GOP has managed to frame his presidency as the machinations of a radical leftist hell-bent on destroying the country.  But the truth, if one ignores all the Socialist fairy tales the Republicans are spinning about health care reform and the stimulus and arms reduction and green jobs, is that there’s mounting evidence that Obama has actually been quite good for the country.  How odd that we don’t hear about that from the leftist media that’s supposedly suckling at Obama’s Marxist teat.

And that means that Obama’s supporters have their work cut out for them. In order to garner votes in November, the GOP is going to continue to pretend to be a supporter of the working class (despite all evidence to the contrary), and, at the same time, paint Obama and the Democratic incumbents as Socialist Marxist fascist homosexuals who want nothing more than to see a Soviet flag flying over the White House.  It’s important for us to understand that an Obama presidency that doesn’t go quite as far as we’d like is still miles better than turning over Washington to Gingrich and Palin and Michele Bachmann and professional saddlebag John Boehner.  The more seats the Republicans take in November, the uglier it’s going to get for all of us.  And that means whatever reservations we have about Obama’s individual policies have to be squelched, and the not insignificant accomplishments of his administration have to be amplified, and amplified in a way that illustrates how they actually help the middle-class. The long-running (and entirely true) joke about the Democrats is that they always know how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Not this time.  There’s just too much at stake.


Current listening:

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)

Song of the Day (4/10/10: The National Saturday Night Double Shot) April 10, 2010

Posted by monty in music.
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There are some bands that I can’t help but think of as mine. It’s not that I’m the only one to like them, or that I like them more than anyone else, or that I was one of the first to discover them.  These bands are mine in the sense that they resonate with me on a level that goes beyond merely humming their songs in the car.  Right now, The National is one of two or three bands to hold this particular distinction.

I’ve written about this in regard to other bands, but one of the things that appeals to me most about The National is their gravitas.  I still love young, hungry, up and coming bands, but as I get older (and it is probably a symptom of growing old), I find myself increasingly drawn to bands that sound like they’ve been around the block a time or two.  Elbow, Nick Cave, Doves, Tindersticks, The Frames – there’s a world-weariness, a heaviness, to their music, and it makes them sound like they know what they’re singing (and playing) about.  It’s no coincidence that the members of these bands are older, and The National is no exception.  Singer Matt Berninger is in his early 40’s, and there’s a weight to the way he sings that seems born of experience and knowledge.  For whatever reason, I find that easier to latch onto these days than the hedonistic party-heartyisms of many younger bands.

The National releases its new album, High Violet, one month from tomorrow.  The first video below is from their recent appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, performing one of the songs from that forthcoming album, “Terrible Love.”  The second video is “Mistaken for Strangers,” one of my favorite tracks from their 2007 album, Boxer. And, as a special added bonus, click the link beneath the videos to hear the audio of another song from High Violet. It’s called “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and, to put it bluntly, it’s really fucking amazing.

Audio of “Bloodbuzz Ohio”  (courtesy of Pitchfork)

Last movie seen:

Crazy Eights (2006; James K. Jones, dir.)

Each Time Is a New Time April 10, 2010

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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I didn’t really intend to shutter the blog. As I usually do, I just sort of lost interest for a bit. A new semester started with a new class that I’d never taught before, I increased my daily running mileage (and, as a result, my daily time commitment), and I generally got tired of the sound of my own voice. It happens.

It’s funny to look back on some of my posts from late 2009 and early 2010 and consider how much and how little things have changed in the last four months.  On the one hand, health care reform passed, the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien dustup is just a memory, and I’ve watched nine more movie adaptations of Stephen King’s books.  On the other hand, the right wing is still losing its collective shit over every single thing Obama says or does, Fox News still resembles a bunch of lobotomized monkeys poking a deflated volleyball with a stick, and Sarah Palin’s speeches still sound like they were composed after she spent ten seconds playing with one of those magnetic poetry kits.

And Nigel died.

This was tough.  He was always sort of a lazy cat, but in early February he appeared even more listless than usual, not even appearing interested in his daily snacks.  When I listened to his breathing, it sounded like he wheezing, so I took him to the vet.  She immediately noticed that his ear flaps were tinged yellow, a sure sign of liver problems.  She said they’d keep him for a couple days, run some tests, pump him full of fluids and medicine, and take it from there.

The next morning I got a call that he had died during the night.  Turns out he was even sicker than he thought.  Feline leukemia, which the vet suspects he had when I got him five years ago, caused liver damage that didn’t show up until it was too late.  Nigel was easily the most affectionate, even-tempered cat I’ve ever seen, and it still bothers me that he died among strangers.  Yeah, yeah, I know he was just a cat, and he didn’t really know what was going on, but still.  It’s not right.

The upshot (although I probably shouldn’t call it that) is that I now have Toby.  Named after David Cross’ character in Arrested Development, Toby is, to put it in clinical terms, insane.  He’s now about six months old, and I’m waiting desperately for the day when he grows out of his “I’m a kitten and I’m going to destroy everything in your home” phase.  I believe this is also the same phase that allows him to decide, at 4:00 every morning, that it’s time to play.  It’s also the phase that includes him climbing into the refrigerator whenever I open it, severing the pull-cords on my window blinds with his teeth, and tormenting Maggie, my other cat, to the point of a nervous breakdown.

The two of them are almost – almost – friends.

Also, as evidenced in the previous photo, I bought a new pair of pajama pants in the last four months.  Fun times in the big city.

That’s it for now.  I won’t promise daily updates – the semester is winding down, after all, which means an increase in reading and responding to student work – but I’ll give it a shot.  I also intend to continue the usual features I’d started in my last go-round: Cinema Sunday, Song of the Day, reviews of Stephen King movies, and the fledgling Perfect Movie Moment.

Much hilarity will certainly ensue.

Current listening:

The Delgados – The Great Eastern (2000)

Current reading:

Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead (1948)

Last movie seen:

Date Night (2010; Shawn Levy, dir.)